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Fourth quarter rally lifts Evanston girls in opener

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Evanston coach Brittanny Johnson knew it might be a tough night before the Wildkit girls even tipped off the 2018-19 basketball season Tuesday night at the 30th annual Lady Saxons Thanksgiving Tournament at Schaumburg.

“Half of our starters didn’t know about (the sportsmanlike tradition of) bumping fists with the officials before the game, because it was the first game they ever started,” the coach pointed out.

Two players who haven’t been prime time players in the past — juniors Tyler Mayne and Jayla Turchin — reminded their coach that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that matters after clutch performances by the duo down the stretch rallied the Wildkits to a 43-39 triumph over Wheaton Warrenville South on the opening night of the round-robin tournament.

Mayne and Turchin combined for 23 points and Evanston limited the losers to just 15 points in the entire second half, perhaps the biggest surprise of all in a season where Johnson expects the unexpected every night.

Charged with more turnovers than points over the first 3 quarters, Mayne delivered 3-point baskets that boosted the Kits to leads of 38-35 and 41-39 in the final quarter, the last one coming with 54 seconds left in regulation.

Steals by two more new faces on the varsity — Ariel Logan and Rashele Olantunbosun — set up a pair of clinching free throws by Turchin with 13.7 seconds left.

“I saw a lot of nerves tonight and I just told the girls we can only go up from here,” Johnson said. “We do have older players this year, but this is still an inexperienced team without Kayla (Henning) and SyAnn (Holmes). Last year we folded completely in the fourth quarter against Wheaton South, and at least we were able to fight back and battle through against them tonight.”

Henning, encumbered by a brace on her right knee, attempted only 1 field goal and only played 6-plus minutes for the winners. Holmes, on the mend from an ankle injury, didn’t even dress for the opener. Turchin (12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) and Mayne (11 points, 10 boards) picked up the slack for an ETHS squad that had to overcome 19 turnovers on the night.

Wheaton South’s dizzying motion offense always challenges the Kits when the two squads meet in this tournament, and Johnson’s concerns about the current squad’s ability to lock down teams defensively — usually an Evanston trademark — certainly weren’t “fake news” as the Tigers built a 10-point advantage midway through the second quarter.

ETHS did cut into that deficit with an 8-1 run in the final 2:24 of the half behind a 3-pointer by Olantunbosun and transition buckets by Logan (9 total points) and Turchin.

“We showed we can do it (play stingy defense) in the second half,” Johnson said. “Every year we play Wheaton Warrenville South first here. They look like a small and unassuming team, but they always move the ball well, they’re well-coached, and they’re very disciplined on defense. And their offense is so fluid that they really are difficult to guard.”

Tuesday’s efforts should prove to be confidence  boosts to both Mayne and Turchin. Mayne’s willingness to take big shots in big situations delivered a knockout blow to the Tigers and Turchin, who spent all of last year learning she had to play both ends of the floor to earn Johnson’s trust and playing time, also stepped up.

“It was a struggle for Tyler tonight. She played a very bad first half,” said a blunt Johnson. “That was to be expected from someone who hasn’t played very much due to injuries the past two years, and I think she’s going to be a work in progress. I’m happy she still had the mindset to take those shots at the end of the game. She was willing and she was ready, and that says a lot about her.

“I trust Tyler and that’s why I stuck with her tonight. She’s worked hard and she deserves this opportunity. We don’t know when Kayla will be 100 percent again, so I have to be patient with Tyler (at point guard). She really picked it up in the second half.

“I can see the effort from Jayla that I didn’t see last year, too. She gave up some points defensively in the first half, but she was much better for us in the second half. “

Evanston continues tournament play on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against St. Charles East, a 37-36 loser to the host team in the first round. Maine West outscored Downers Grove North 47-32 in the other first round matchup of the night.    

Evanston coach Brittanny Johnson knew it might be a tough night before the Wildkit girls even tipped off the 2018-19 basketball season Tuesday night at the 30th annual Lady Saxons Thanksgiving Tournament at Schaumburg.

“Half of our starters didn’t know about (the sportsmanlike tradition of) bumping fists with the officials before the game, because it was the first game they ever started,” the coach pointed out.

Two players who haven’t been prime time players in the past — juniors Tyler Mayne and Jayla Turchin — reminded their coach that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that matters after clutch performances by the duo down the stretch rallied the Wildkits to a 43-39 triumph over Wheaton Warrenville South on the opening night of the round-robin tournament.

Mayne and Turchin combined for 23 points and Evanston limited the losers to just 15 points in the entire second half, perhaps the biggest surprise of all in a season where Johnson expects the unexpected every night.

Charged with more turnovers than points over the first 3 quarters, Mayne delivered 3-point baskets that boosted the Kits to leads of 38-35 and 41-39 in the final quarter, the last one coming with 54 seconds left in regulation.

Steals by two more new faces on the varsity — Ariel Logan and Rashele Olantunbosun — set up a pair of clinching free throws by Turchin with 13.7 seconds left.

“I saw a lot of nerves tonight and I just told the girls we can only go up from here,” Johnson said. “We do have older players this year, but this is still an inexperienced team without Kayla (Henning) and SyAnn (Holmes). Last year we folded completely in the fourth quarter against Wheaton South, and at least we were able to fight back and battle through against them tonight.”

Henning, encumbered by a brace on her right knee, attempted only 1 field goal and only played 6-plus minutes for the winners. Holmes, on the mend from an ankle injury, didn’t even dress for the opener. Turchin (12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) and Mayne (11 points, 10 boards) picked up the slack for an ETHS squad that had to overcome 19 turnovers on the night.

Wheaton South’s dizzying motion offense always challenges the Kits when the two squads meet in this tournament, and Johnson’s concerns about the current squad’s ability to lock down teams defensively — usually an Evanston trademark — certainly weren’t “fake news” as the Tigers built a 10-point advantage midway through the second quarter.

ETHS did cut into that deficit with an 8-1 run in the final 2:24 of the half behind a 3-pointer by Olantunbosun and transition buckets by Logan (9 total points) and Turchin.

“We showed we can do it (play stingy defense) in the second half,” Johnson said. “Every year we play Wheaton Warrenville South first here. They look like a small and unassuming team, but they always move the ball well, they’re well-coached, and they’re very disciplined on defense. And their offense is so fluid that they really are difficult to guard.”

Tuesday’s efforts should prove to be confidence  boosts to both Mayne and Turchin. Mayne’s willingness to take big shots in big situations delivered a knockout blow to the Tigers and Turchin, who spent all of last year learning she had to play both ends of the floor to earn Johnson’s trust and playing time, also stepped up.

“It was a struggle for Tyler tonight. She played a very bad first half,” said a blunt Johnson. “That was to be expected from someone who hasn’t played very much due to injuries the past two years, and I think she’s going to be a work in progress. I’m happy she still had the mindset to take those shots at the end of the game. She was willing and she was ready, and that says a lot about her.

“I trust Tyler and that’s why I stuck with her tonight. She’s worked hard and she deserves this opportunity. We don’t know when Kayla will be 100 percent again, so I have to be patient with Tyler (at point guard). She really picked it up in the second half.

“I can see the effort from Jayla that I didn’t see last year, too. She gave up some points defensively in the first half, but she was much better for us in the second half. “

Evanston continues tournament play on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against St. Charles East, a 37-36 loser to the host team in the first round. Maine West outscored Downers Grove North 47-32 in the other first round matchup of the night.    

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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